I’m panting, head racing, heart beating out of control. Wondering if I will be sick, I click on the blue button on the screen and join my first Zoom class of the day. To the average person, this may sound like an overreaction. After all, what can be so scary about a row of boxes on a screen? But the multiple lockdowns over the past year have taken a toll on my mental health and social skills. According to the Mental Health Foundation, over half of UK adults think their future will be worse as a result of the pandemic, especially students and those with pre-existing mental health conditions. While the country is gearing up to be set free from COVID-19 restrictions on the 21st of June, some are wondering whether they will be able to handle ordinary life ever again. After all, if I get anxious before a Zoom meeting, how will I cope in the middle of a crowd this summer?
After a few weeks of panicking every time I had to join an online class, I realised I might be suffering from social anxiety. The awkwardness of Zoom and the fact I hadn’t seen my friends in months has impacted me immensely. While everyone else was celebrating the idea of coming out of lockdown in summer, I felt dread. Don’t get me wrong, seeing people from outside my family again is a huge relief. But the idea of being squashed into a hot, sweaty crowd, or even just sitting in a classroom, terrified me. When I finally acknowledged the problem and started to find ways to ease my anxiety, I was able to take back control. I learned that you cannot live around your anxiety, pretending it doesn’t exist; you have to accept it and find ways to live with it.
The truth is everyone will be wondering how to cope after leaving lockdown. This bizarre lifestyle has become the new norm. The small bubble of family and housemates we live with has become our whole world and leaving that behind will undoubtedly be overwhelming. Many have lost touch with friends or become addicted to social media, having a detrimental impact on self-esteem and mental health. I have compiled a list of tips that helped me feel calmer about re-entering society. Hopefully, they will do the same for you.
- Change your mindset. Rather than focusing on your dread and anxiety, envision what there is to look forward to. You could even make a list of everything you’re excited to do at the end of June. It doesn’t have to be clubbing or festivals; it can be going to your favourite cafe or wearing a new outfit to see some friends. Keeping this in mind can kindle enthusiasm and prevent negativity from taking over.
- Distract yourself from anxious feelings with a hobby, particularly one that takes a bit of concentration but won’t overwhelm you. Crocheting, painting, reading and cooking all help me feel more creative and focused. When I feel my body getting jittery, it helps to do an at-home workout to get rid of some of that nervous energy. A new hobby is also a great way to feel more productive. You could even get in touch with friends who share similar hobbies or join an online community.
- If you can’t distract yourself, or your anxiety becomes overwhelming, try grounding exercises. Meditation, yoga, tai-chi, colouring and journaling all help ground you in the moment. They let you see things more clearly and focus on what you’re feeling. For the last few months, I’ve been following a ‘Yoga with Adriene’ video on YouTube every day. It calms me down, helps me control my breathing, and stops me from feeling overwhelmed. I like to do it before Zoom calls or appointments to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.
- Speak to someone. If you are struggling with anxiety or poor mental health, speaking to a doctor or a therapist is best, but if this is unavailable, talk to a loved one, friend or housemate. The people around you might also be worried about what life will be like after lockdown. Establish a system where you can reach out to each other for support when things get hard. It can be tempting to think of the periods you’ve spent in lockdown as a waste of time and a hindrance to your social skills. Instead, think of them as a tool to reconnect with yourself and the people in your personal life.
- When the restrictions are lifted, ease yourself in. Try going out alone or with one other person at first. Visit a cafe or bookshop to prepare yourself for spending time in larger groups. And, when social events are in full swing, don’t be afraid to say no and spend time alone instead. Even when we start to socialise more and more, you can take time out for yourself.
Just by getting by, you’re handling a difficult situation in your own way. Never blame yourself for needing time to adjust to this new phase of life. Good luck!
– Daniella Clarke
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